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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                         jgy
er, whose voice was known and listened to all over the
world in those days, began to read the Order of the Day
of the People's Commissar of Defence. Everybody re-
mained absolutely silent, with necks craned towards the
two black discs hanging on the wall, afraid to miss a
single word. Even after the words: "Under the invin-
cible banner of Great Lenin—forward to victory!"...
had been pronounced, intense silence reigned in the
"Now, please, explain this to me, Comrade Regimen-
tal Commissar.. ." Kukushkin began, and suddenly he
cried out in horror—"Comrade Commissar!"
Everybody looked round. The Commissar was lying
straight, stiff and stern on his bed, staring with motion-
less eyes at a point in the ceiling; his face, haggard and
pale, bore a calm, solemn and majestic expression.
"He's dead!" cried Kukushkin, dropping on his knees
at the bedside. "Dead!"
The dismayed ward maids ran in and out, the nurse
rushed about, the house surgeon flew in, still fastening
his smock. Ill-tempered, unsociable Lieutenant Konstan-
tin Kukushkin was lying across the body of the dead man,
paying no attention to anybody, his face buried in the
blanket like a child's, his shoulders heaving and body
trembling in a paroxysm of sobbing and weeping....
That evening a new patient was brought into now half-
empty ward forty-two. He was Major Pavel Ivanovich
Struchkov, of a fighter unit of the Moscow Defence Divi-
sion. The fascists had decided to carry out a big air raid
on Moscow on the holiday, but their bombers, flying in
several echelons, were intercepted and after a fierce battle
were routed somewhere in the region of Podsolnechnaya.
Only one Junkers succeeded in breaking through. It
made its way towards Moscow at a high altitude. Evi-
dently, its crew was determined to carry out the assign-
ment at any price in order to mar the holiday celebra-
tions. In the heat of the battle Struchkov saw that the
bomber was escaping and at once went in pursuit. He was
flying a splendid Soviet machine, one of the type with
which the fighter units were being equipped at that time.
He overtook the German plane high up in the air, about
six kilometres above the ground, already over the suburbs